The last four years: Highlights of the 9th Assembly
16 September 2020 | Canberra, Australia | Feature
A lot has happened in the last four years: the Raiders came this close to winning the NRL Grand Final, the brushtail rock wallaby beat out the bettong to become the ACT’s mammal emblem; and Skywhale once again graced us with her presence. There have been some similarly momentous occasions in the Assembly since late 2016. Join us as we look back on some of the highlights of the Ninth Assembly.
Australia’s first female-majority parliament
After the 2016 election, the Assembly became the first Australian parliament with a female majority. 13 women were elected as members of the Ninth Assembly.
ACT & NT parliaments remonstrate the Senate over euthanasia vote
In September 2018, Speakers Joy Burch and Kezia Purick presented remonstrances (formal protests) from the ACT and NT parliaments to the Senate President Hon. Scott Ryan after a bill restoring the right of territories to pass laws on euthanasia failed. A remonstrance is the most serious protest available to a parliament and it is the only one agreed to in the Assembly’s history. The motion remonstrating the Senate was debated and agreed to earlier in August.
Tri-partisan cooperation over image-based abuse
Though political combat makes for great headlines, the Assembly is usually a very cooperative environment. One great example was the Crimes (Intimate Image Abuse) Amendment Act, a law which created a specific crime for the capture or distribution of intimate images without consent (known as ‘revenge porn’ or image-based abuse).
All parties worked closely together behind the scenes with public servants to create what Jeremy Hanson, the bill’s sponsor, described as “a bill that is optimal, that is the best that we can achieve to deal with this offence.”
If you or someone you know may have experienced image-based abuse, find out what help is available here.
Assembly celebrates 30years of self-government
In May 2019, the Assembly celebrated 30 years since the Territory became self-governing in 1989. Members met for a ceremonial sitting on 10 May to mark the occasion, in front of a gallery packed with former MLAs and First Australians.. The next day, hundreds of Canberrans were welcomed inside the Assembly for an open house with behind-the-scenes tours, live performances, a sausage sizzle, exhibition, and giveaways.
Independent integrity commission established
The ACT Integrity Commission, the Territory’s anti-corruption agency, began its work in December 2019 with the full commencement of the Integrity Commission Act 2018. A lot of work was done to get to this point, including two select committees, two reports, and three bills. Hon Dennis Cowdroy AO QC—a former federal, defence, and ACT judge—was announced as the inaugural Integrity Commissioner in May 2019. The Commission investigates allegations of corrupt conduct in the ACT public sector and assesses whether criminal charges should be laid.
New steps in our Reconciliation journey
Meaningful steps have been made this Assembly as part of reconciling with indigenous Australians within the Territory. The Holiday (Reconciliation Day) Amendment Act passed unanimously in September 2017, creating a new holiday for reconciling with and celebrating the contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander in the ACT. It was the culmination of cross-party work begun by Dr Chris Bourke, indigenous affairs minister in the Eighth Assembly and the ACT’s first indigenous MLA.
The May 2019 presentation of a possum skin cloak to the Assembly marked one of two major reconciliation milestones with the local Ngunnawal people. The first cloak made by Ngunnawal women in over 150 years, it holds pride of place in the Assembly foyer as a symbol of reconciliation and respect. The other milestone was the switch to delivering the sitting day Acknowledgement of Country in Ngunnawal language. It was an initiative was the result of by a tri-partisan motion and saw the Assembly become the first Australian parliament to deliver its Acknowledgement in an indigenous language daily.
Challenges to Canberrans and democracy alike
The ACT has faced many challenges in 2020. The first sitting day of the year was dedicated to acknowledging the impact of the summer bushfires and hailstorm on Canberrans. The Assembly itself also sustained both smoke and hail damage in January alone.
The coronavirus pandemic triggered the biggest changes to how the Assembly operates in its history, after the Assembly building was closed to the public long-term for the first time ever. Committees began to meet virtually, new benches were added to the chamber for physically distanced sittings, and the sitting calendar was slimmed down. These were vital to ensure democracy remains resilient, responsive, and serves the people of the ACT no matter the circumstances.